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CONTENTS
VARIATIONAL PRINCIPLES: THE PRINCIPLE OF VIRTUAL WORK
1. Mathematical Preliminaries
2. Linear Algebra
3. Calculus
4. Displacement and Strain
The principle of virtual work is widely used to solve a variety of continuum and solid mechanics problems. The statement
5. Stress
of the principle of virtual work usually involves the phrase “virtual displacement field,” which is designed to engage the
intuition by attempting to give a physical explanation to a mathematical statement. However, as will be shown in the
6. Balance Equations
following sections, the statement itself can be derived solely from mathematical, rather than physical explanations. In this
7. Constitutive Laws
section, the principle of virtual work will be presented for three applications. In the first, we will investigate the principle in
8. Beam Structures
its simplest form as it applies to a single degree of freedom. In the second and third, we will apply the principle to the
9. Energy
10. Variational Principles
continuum and to beams. The principle of virtual work itself is a different manifestation of the equilibrium equations, as it
is an equivalent form of equilibrium. A system that is in equilibrium should satisfy the statement of the principle of virtual
work and vice versa.
10.1 The Principle of Virtual Work
10.1.1 THE PRINCIPLE OF VIRTUAL WORK FOR A
10.2 The Principle of Minimum
Potential Energy for Conservative
Systems in Equilibrium
SINGLE DEGREE OF FREEDOM:
11. Approximate Methods
Consider the static equilibrium of a mass spring system. Assume that the force in the spring is a function of the
12. Finite Element Analysis
displacement
of the spring, i.e.,
. At equilibrium, the sum of the vertical forces is equal to zero, and the
13. Introduction to Numerical
force
in the spring is equal to the applied external load
. Let the position of equilibrium be at
(Figure 1). At
Analysis
equilibrium, we have:
If the position of the spring is perturbed by an arbitrary small displacement
(Figure 1) and if the equilibrium equation
PAGE CONTENTS
above is multiplied by
, then:
10.1.1 The Principle of Virtual Work
for a Single Degree of Freedom:
10.1.2 The Principle of Virtual Work
The above equation represents the statement of the principle of virtual work in a single degree of freedom system. From
for a Continuum:
an equilibrium position, the external work done by the external forces
during the application of a small virtual
10.1.3 The Principle of Virtual Work
displacement is equal to the internal work done by the spring force during the application of that small virtual
for an Euler Bernoulli Beam:
displacement (Figure 1).
10.1.4 The Principle of Virtual Work
for a Timoshenko Beam:
10.1.5 Applications of the Principle
of Virtual Work:
Application 1: Finding the Reactions of
Statically Determinate Beams
Application 2: Finding Displacements at
Specific Points for Linear Elastic Small
Deformations Beams
Application 3: Finding Approximate
Solutions
10.1.6
Examples and Probelms:
Example 1: Illustrative Example of the
Principle of Virtual Work Applied to a
Continuum
Example 2: Illustrative Example of the
Principle of Virtual Work Applied to an Euler
Bernoulli Beam
Example 3: Application 1 of the Principle of
Virtual Work
Example 4: Application 1 of the Principle of
Virtual Work
Figure 1. The principle of virtual work in a mass-spring system. (a) Equilibrium position with the external force. (b)
Example 5: Application 2 of the Principle of
Virtual Work
Application of an arbitrary differentiable (small) virtual displacement. (c) Internal virtual work during the application
of the virtual displacement.
Example 6: Application 3 of the Principle of
Virtual Work
Problems:
10.1.2 THE PRINCIPLE OF VIRTUAL WORK FOR A
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CONTINUUM:
In order to derive the equations of the virtual work, we start by the equilibrium equations in a continuum. Let
be
the set representing a body in its reference configuration and
be the set representing the body in its current
configuration. Let be an orthonormal basis set, such that and , each has
coordinates:
and
respectively. Let
be the body forces vector map. The stresses at

Samer Adeeb » The Principle of Virtual Work

any point inside the body at static equilibrium satisfy the following equations:

Let

Let

be an arbitrary smooth function that could be viewed as a virtual displacement defined on be the associated strain field defined as:

and in component form:

(1)

( Figure 2).

, and then

the three equations are added together (in other words, if we take the dot product between the equilibrium equations as

When each of the equilibrium equations is multiplied by the corresponding component of the vector function

 a vector and the vector ), the following equation is obtained : (2) The following equality will be used: Setting and utilizing the symmetry of , Equation 2 can now be written as : (3) In the next step, Equation 3 is integrated over the domain of . Therefore : (4) Using the divergence theorem, the first volume integral can be replaced with a surface integral. Therefore, : (5) Additionally, the Cauchy stress matrix is related to the external traction vectors on the surface of . Therefore, Equation

5 can be rewritten in the following form

:
 (6) Or in a more simple form : (7)

The left hand side is the external work done by the traction vectors on the surface and the body forces vectors

during a virtual smooth displacement field

. The right hand side is equal to the internal work associated with the

associated virtual strain field . The following are two important observations:

The phrase

Equations 1 and 7 are equivalent. You can derive Equation 1 by reversing the steps above from Equation 7.

is necessary in the virtual work Equation (Equation 7).

Samer Adeeb » The Principle of Virtual Work

Figure 2. The principle of virtual work in a continuum. (a) Equilibrium position with external forces. (b) Application of an arbitrary differentiable (small) virtual displacement field.

10.1.3 THE PRINCIPLE OF VIRTUAL WORK FOR AN EULER BERNOULLI BEAM:

The Euler Bernoulli beam is a special example of a continuum. We can either derive the equations from Equation 7 however, we will follow the same procedure above to obtain the virtual work equations for an Euler Bernoulli beam. The equilibrium equation of an Euler Bernoulli beam is given by:

We can assume a virtual smooth displacement field and integrate over the length of the beam. Therefore,

and proceed by multiplying the equilibrium equation by :

By applying integration by parts for the integral on the left hand side of the above equation, we get

By applying integration by parts once more for the integral on the left hand side of the above equation, we get

Rearranging and utilizing the Euler Bernoulli beam equations for the shear and bending moments we reach the final virtual
work expression:
(8)
Where ,
,
,
,
,
,
, and
are the boundary conditions for the shear, moment, virtual rotation and virtual

displacement as shown in Figure 3. The right hand side represents the work done by the external forces during the

application of a virtual smooth displacement field

the bending moment during the application of the virtual displacement field.

The same notes regarding the principle of virtual work for a continuum apply to the Euler Bernoulli beam. The principle of

virtual work equation is equivalent to the equilibrium equation. In addition, the phrase

the principle of virtual work. I.e., the principle states that from an equilibrium position and under all possible virtual displacements, the internal virtual work is equal to the external virtual work

is an essential element of

while the left hand side represents the internal work done by

.

Figure 3. The principle of virtual work in an Euler Bernoulli Beam. (a) Equilibrium position with external forces. (b) Application of an arbitrary differentiable (small) virtual displacement field.

Samer Adeeb » The Principle of Virtual Work

10.1.4 THE PRINCIPLE OF VIRTUAL WORK FOR A

TIMOSHENKO BEAM:

Similar to the Euler Bernoulli beam, we will assume a virtual arbitrary and smooth displacement field

to a virtual cross section shear deformation field

such that the total cross section virtual rotation is given by:

Multiplying the equilibrium equation by

and integrating over the length of the beam yields

Using integration by parts for the left hand side integral,

:
:

(9)

Using Equation 9 to substitute for
yields
:

Applying the integration by parts to one of the integrals on the left hand side yields

:

Finally, the statement of the virtual work principle has the following form

:

Where , , , , , , , and are the boundary conditions for the shear, moment, virtual cross section rotation and virtual displacement on ends 1 and 2. The right hand side represents the work done by the external forces during the application of a virtual smooth displacement field and a virtual smooth shear deformation field

while the left hand side represents the internal work done by the bending moment and shear force during the application

of the virtual displacement fields.

The same notes regarding the principle of virtual work for a continuum apply to the Timoshenko beam. The principle of virtual work equation is equivalent to the equilibrium equation. In addition, the phrase is an essential element of the principle of virtual work. I.e., the principle states that from an equilibrium position and under all possible virtual displacements, the internal virtual work is equal to the external virtual work.

10.1.5 APPLICATIONS OF THE PRINCIPLE OF VIRTUAL

WORK:

In this section, we will present three applications for the principle of virtual work. The first applications is for illustrative

purposes only to show that the principle of virtual work is equivalent to the equilibrium equations. The second application was widely used to calculate deflections for statically determinate structures. It was also widely used in the past to calculate the reactions for statically indeterminate structures. However, the wide use of the computer programs to calculate the reactions and deflections have rendered the second application almost obsolete. The third application is for

finding approximate solutions for continuum mechanics problems. In particular, the majority of the finite element analysis procedure for solving continuum mechanics problems are based on the principle of virtual work.

APPLICATION 1: FINDING THE REACTIONS OF STATICALLY DETERMINATE BEAMS

A statically determinate beam is a beam whose external reactions can be obtained by solving the equilibrium equations

without the need for using the constitutive equations. In case of a plane beam, the equilibrium equations: the sums of the horizontal and vertical forces, separately, are equal to zero, and the sum of moments is equal to zero. For such beams, it will be shown that the principle of virtual work can be used to generate the same equations by simply applying a virtual

displacement field that produces no internal forces. Such a displacement field that produces no internal forces is termed:

“Rigid Body Displacement.” Recalling the principle of virtual work derived above for the Euler Bernoulli beams, if the arbitrary smooth displacement field is such that:

then the internal work done is equal to zero and the statement of the principle of virtual work is reduced to: From an equilibrium position, the work done by the external forces through an arbitrary and smooth displacement field is equal to zero:

Samer Adeeb » The Principle of Virtual Work

See the examples and problems section for examples on this application.
APPLICATION 2: FINDING DISPLACEMENTS AT SPECIFIC POINTS FOR
LINEAR ELASTIC SMALL DEFORMATIONS BEAMS
Structural engineers often use the method of virtual work to find the displacement at specific points in statically
determinate structures when the bending moment, the shearing force, and the normal force diagrams can be computed
for the structure under consideration. In that procedure, the internal forces diagram for the structure is solved for twice,
once with the original set of external forces and once with a unit load applied at the point of interest. Then, the
displacement field from the original set of external forces is considered to be analogous to the virtual displacement field
in the derivation of the equations of the Virtual Work principle for the Euler Bernoulli beam. The displacement field
obtained for the structure with the applied unit load is considered to be analogous to the displacement field y. Because
satisfies the boundary conditions of the structure, the work done by the reactions is equal to zero and therefore, the
equation of the principle of virtual work then becomes:
where:
is the displacement field obtained through applying a unit load to the point of interest.
is the displacement field obtained for the structure with the applied loading.
is the unknown displacement at the point of interest.
However, since the bending moment diagrams for both the structure with the applied loading and the structure with a unit
load applied at the point of interest, the equation can now be rewritten as follows:
If the shear and normal forces deformations are to be considered as well, the equation becomes:
where:
,
, and
are the bending moment, normal force and shearing force equations for the structure with the original
set of forces applied to it.
,
, and
are the bending moment, normal force and shearing force equations for the structure with the unit load
applied to the point of interest.
,
, and
are the bending, normal force, and shearing force stiffness for the individual beam members.
See the examples below for an example on this application.
APPLICATION 3: FINDING APPROXIMATE SOLUTIONS
The principle of virtual work is applied by first approximating the unknown displacement field of the structure with a shape
or a form with a finite number of unknown parameters. The approximate displacement field has to satisfy the boundary
conditions of the structure so that the external reactions would not appear in the equations of the principle of the virtual
work. Then, the virtual displacement field is applied by varying the unknown parameters. This method results in a finite
number of equations that are sufficient to find the unknown parameters. In essence the possible displacement fields of
the structure are restricted to a family of displacement functions that have a finite number of unknowns. See the
examples and problems section for an example on this application.
10.1.6 EXAMPLES AND PROBELMS:
EXAMPLE 1: ILLUSTRATIVE EXAMPLE OF THE PRINCIPLE OF VIRTUAL
WORK APPLIED TO A CONTINUUM
The Cauchy stress distribution in the shown plate is given by:
where
and
are the coordinates inside the plate with units of m. Find the equilibrium body forces vector applied to
the plate. Find the traction forces on the boundary edges
,
,
, and
of the plate. Verify the principle of virtual work
assuming a virtual displacement field
,
.

Samer Adeeb » The Principle of Virtual Work

SOLUTION:

The equilibrium body forces applied to the plate can be obtained using the equilibrium equations:

The plate is in a state of plane stress, so, the problem can be reduced to

. The area vectors for the boundary edges

,
,
,
and
are given by:
The traction vectors in units of
on the boundary edges
,
,
, and
are given by:

Therefore,

The virtual displacement vector is:

The gradient of the virtual displacement tensor is:

The associated virtual strain is given by:

The internal virtual work can be calculated as follows:

There are five components for the external virtual work. The first one is the external virtual work due to the external body forces applied to the plate. This component is a volume integral:

The second component is the external virtual work due to the external forces acting on side
. This is a surface integral
and is evaluated for side
where
:

The third component is the external virtual work due to the external forces acting on side

. This is a surface integral and

is evaluated for side
where
:
The fourth component is the external virtual work due to the external forces acting on side
. This is a surface integral
and is evaluated for side
where
:

Samer Adeeb » The Principle of Virtual Work

The fifth component is the external virtual work due to the external forces acting on side

. This is a surface integral and

is evaluated for side
where
:

Therefore, the total external virtual work is:

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EXAMPLE 2: ILLUSTRATIVE EXAMPLE OF THE PRINCIPLE OF VIRTUAL WORK APPLIED TO AN EULER BERNOULLI BEAM

fixed ends Euler Bernoulli beam is subjected to a distributed load

A

the length, and the moment of inertia for the beam are applies when a virtual parabolic displacement

SOLUTION:

,
, and

. Assuming that Young’s modulus,

, respectively, verify that the principle of virtual work is applied to the beam.

The principle of virtual work applies to the equilibrium internal forces. So, the first step is to find the internal forces at the state of equilibrium. For this, we will solve the differential equation of equilibrium:

The integration constants
,
,
, and
can be obtained using the four boundary conditions of a fixed ends beam:

Therefore, the equilibrium displacement of the beam is:

The bending moment and the shearing force equations at equilibrium are:

The external forces acting on the ends of the beam are given by:

Note that the convention for positive end forces is shown in Figure 3. The virtual end displacements and rotations are given by:

Therefore, the internal virtual work is given by:

The external virtual work has three components, the first is the external virtual work due to the distributed load

:

Samer Adeeb » The Principle of Virtual Work

The second component is the external virtual work due to the reactions at end 1:

The third component is the external virtual work due to the reactions at end 2:

The total external virtual work is:

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EXAMPLE 3: APPLICATION 1 OF THE PRINCIPLE OF VIRTUAL WORK

The shown beam has its neutral axis aligned with the equations and then using the principle of virtual work.

axis. Find the reactions

,

, and

using the equilibrium

Example 3. Virtual Work Principle applied to a statically determinate Euler Bernoulli Beam. (a) Geometry and Loading, (b) Rigid body displacement field.

SOLUTION:

There are three equilibrium equations which can be used to find the three unknown reactions:

Therefore, the three unknown reactions are:

The principle of virtual work can be used by applying a virtual smooth rigid body displacement to the beam. The rigid body displacement will in fact have three unknown variables. Each variable will correspond to an equilibrium of motion. In this example, the virtual vertical displacement field:

and a horizontal displacement equal to

corresponds to moving the beam vertically upwards and will be used to write the equation of equilibrium that states

that the sum of vertical forces is equal to zero.

the equation of equilibrium that states that the sum of the horizontal forces is equal to zero.

the beam around point 1 which will be used to write the equation of equilibrium that states that the sum of moments around point 1 is equal to zero.

corresponds to rotating

. In essence, the rigid body displacement has three variables,

,

, and

.

corresponds to moving the beam horizontally and will be used to write

The statement of virtual work of the system is:

and
are the virtual displacements of points 2 and 3 and can be replaced with
and
The above equation can be rearranged to have the following form:

so the equation becomes:

Since the virtual displacement field is arbitrary and the statement applies for any choices of the variables

,

, and

,

Samer Adeeb » The Principle of Virtual Work

then, their coefficients are equal to zero. Therefore, the three equations of equilibrium are retrieved:

Therefore, the same reactions are obtained. Note that the chosen virtual displacement field guarantees that the associated internal virtual work is equal to zero.

EXAMPLE 4: APPLICATION 1 OF THE PRINCIPLE OF VIRTUAL WORK

The shown beam has its neutral axis aligned with the equations and then using the principle of virtual work.

axis. Find the reactions

,

, and

using the equilibrium

Example 4. Virtual Work Principle in an Euler Bernoulli Cantilever Beam. (a) Geometry and Loading, (b) Rigid body displacement field.

SOLUTION:

There are three equilibrium equations which can be used to find the three unknown reactions:

Therefore, the three unknown reactions are:

The principle of virtual work can be used by applying a virtual smooth rigid body displacement to the beam. The rigid body displacement will in fact have three unknown variables. Each variable will correspond to an equilibrium of motion. In this example, the virtual vertical displacement field:

, corresponds to moving the beam vertically upwards and will be used to write the equation of equilibrium that states

and a horizontal displacement equal to

. In essence, the rigid body displacement has three variables,

, and

.

that the sum of vertical forces is equal to zero.

the equation of equilibrium that states that the sum of the horizontal forces is equal to zero.

the beam around point 1 which will be used to write the equation of equilibrium that states that the sum of moments around point 1 is equal to zero.

corresponds to moving the beam horizontally and will be used to write

corresponds to rotating

The statement of virtual work of the system is:

After substituting for

and integrating, the above equation can be rearranged to have the following form:

Notice that the displacement field is chosen small enough such that be rearranged to have the following form:

. The above equation can then

Since the virtual displacement field is arbitrary and the statement applies for any choices of the variables then, their coefficients are equal to zero. Therefore, the three equations of equilibrium are retrieved:

,

, and

,

Therefore, the same reactions are obtained. Note that the chosen virtual displacement field guarantees that the associated internal virtual work is equal to zero.

EXAMPLE 5: APPLICATION 2 OF THE PRINCIPLE OF VIRTUAL WORK

Samer Adeeb » The Principle of Virtual Work

Use the principle of virtual work to find the displacement at the free end of the shown cantilever beam. Assume constant and ignore the shearing force and normal force deformations.

is

Example 5. Virtual Work Principle to find the displacement in a statically determinate Euler Bernoulli Cantilever Beam. (a) Geometry and Loading, (b) Unit load.

SOLUTION:

The bending moment of the structure with the original load (distributed load) is given by the equation:

After removing the loads from the structure and applying a unit load at the point of interest, the bending moment equation

for the structure with the

is given by the equation:

Applying the statement of virtual work as described above for this application:

Therefore:

EXAMPLE 6: APPLICATION 3 OF THE PRINCIPLE OF VIRTUAL WORK

Use the principle of virtual work to find an approximate cubic polynomial displacement solution for the shown beam.

Compare with the exact solution for

length, and moment of inertia respectively. Ignore Poisson’s ratio.

and

where

,

and

are the Young’s modulus, beam’s

Example 6. Geometry, loading and symmetry boundary conditions for an Euler Bernoulli beam.

SOLUTION:

First, we will find the exact displacement shape by solving the differential equation of equilibrium. Because of symmetry, we are going to solve the equation for only half the beam with the boundary conditions shown in the figure.

The constants

,
,
, and
are integration constants and can be obtained from the four boundary conditions:

Samer Adeeb » The Principle of Virtual Work

Therefore, the displacement function

for

is given by:

The displacement function for
displacement shape has the form:
can be obtained by replacing
with
in
and thus the final

The following are two important observations about the exact solution:

The exact solution is not differentiable at

since the shear is not continuous in the middle of the beam.

The exact solution is a polynomial of the third degree for each half.

We wish now to find an approximate solution for the displacement. We will force the solution however, to be continuous

and differentiable at of the beam:

by assuming that the approximate solution is a cubic function applied from the whole length

,
the boundary conditions of displacement and rotation if any. Therefore we need to ensure:
The first step in finding the appropriate coefficients
,
, and
is to ensure that this approximate solution satisfies

Therefore,

Thus, the approximate displacement shape that would satisfy the boundary conditions has the form:

The associated bending moment diagram in this case has the following form:

In order to apply the principle of virtual work, a virtual displacement needs to be assumed. Since the principle of virtual work applies for any assume virtual displacement, the most general virtual displacement field within the space of possible functions will be assumed. Since we restricted the solutions to be quadratic functions satisfying the boundary conditions, the most general virtual displacement has the form:

and the associated second derivative has the form:

The internal virtual work can be calculated as follows:

On the other hand, the external virtual work has only one component due to the virtual work done by the force
virtual displacement at the reactions is equal to zero:
as the
Since the principle of virtual applies to any choice for
and
, their multipliers on both sides of the equation of virtual

work have to be equal. Therefore, we get the following two equations:

Solving the above two equations yields:

Therefore, the best approximate solution that satisfies the virtual work principle is;

Samer Adeeb » The Principle of Virtual Work

The approximate solution can be compared with the exact solution when

. The plot of

versus

shows that the approximate solution under-predicts the displacement of the structure. In other words, the approximate solution gives a stiffer structure compared to the exact solution.

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PROBLEMS:

1. Use the principle of virtual work to find the reactions for the following statically determinate structures.

2. The shown beams have Young’s modulus Assuming a virtual displacement field

and moment of inertia
.
.

Assuming a virtual displacement field

. Verify that the virtual work principle applies:

where

.

3. The Cauchy stress distribution in the shown plate is given by:

where

applied to the plate. Find the traction forces on the boundary edges principle of virtual work in the following two cases:

and

are the coordinates inside the plate with units of m. Find the equilibrium body forces vector

of the plate. Verify the

,
,

, and

Assuming a virtual displacement field

Assuming a virtual displacement field

,
.
,
.